Lawrence Welk (March 11, 1903 – May 17, 1992) was an American musician, accordionist, bandleader, and television impresario, hosting The Lawrence Welk Show from 1955 to 1982. His style came to be known to his large number of radio, television, and live-performance fans as "champagne music."
Welk was married for 61 years, until his death, to Fern Renner, with whom he had three children. One of his sons, Lawrence Welk, Jr., married fellow Lawrence Welk Show performer Tanya Falan; they later divorced. Welk had many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. One of them, grandson Lawrence Welk III, who usually goes by "Larry Welk," is a reporter and helicopter traffic pilot for KCAL-TV and KCBS-TV in Los Angeles. One of his great-grandchildren, Nate Fredricks, reportedly enjoys the same love for music as his great grandfather did and plays guitar in a band.
Known as an excellent businessman, Welk had investments in real estate and music publishing. Welk was the general partner in a commercial real estate development located at 100 Wilshire Blvd in Santa Monica, California. The 21-story tall white tower is the tallest building in Santa Monica, and is located on the bluffs overlooking Santa Monica Bay. It was informally named "The Lawrence Welk Champagne Tower."
Welk enjoyed playing golf, which he first took up in the late 1950s, and was often a regular at many celebrity pro-ams such as the Bob Hope Desert Classic.
Welk became a minister in the Universal Life Church. He was also a confidant of southern gospel singer Jimmie Davis, a Baptist who was twice elected governor of Louisiana.
After retiring from his show and from the road in 1982, Welk continued to air reruns of his shows which were repackaged first for syndication and starting in 1986 for public television. He also starred in and produced a pair of Christmas specials in 1984 and 1985.
Welk died from pneumonia in Santa Monica, California in 1992 at age 89 and was buried in Culver City's Holy Cross Cemetery.
In 1961, he was inducted as a charter member of the Rough Rider Award from his native North Dakota.
He served as the Grand Marshal for the Rose Bowl's Tournament of Roses parade in 1972.
In 1994, he was inducted into the International Polka Music Hall Of Fame.
He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located at 6613-1/2 Hollywood Blvd.
In 2007, he became a charter member of the Gennett Records Walk of Fame in Richmond, Indiana.
Welk's band continues to appear in a dedicated theater in Branson, Missouri. In addition, the television show has been repackaged for broadcast on PBS stations, with updates from show performers appearing as wraparounds where commercial breaks were during the original shows. The repackaged shows are broadcast at roughly the same Saturday-night time slot as the original ABC shows, and special longer Welk show rebroadcasts are often shown during individual stations' fund-raising periods. These repackaged shows are produced by the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority.
A resort community, developed by Welk and promoted heavily by him on the show, is named for him. Formerly known as "Lawrence Welk Village," the Welk Resort and Champagne Village are just off Interstate 15 north of Escondido, California, about 38 miles (61 km) north of downtown San Diego. Lawrence Welk Village was where Welk actually lived in a rather affluent "cottage." The resort is open to the public and contains two golf courses, dozens of upper class timeshares, and a theater containing a museum of Welk's life. The Welk Resort Theatre performs live Broadway musicals year round.
His organization, The Welk Group, consists of his resort communities in Branson and Escondido; Welk Syndication which broadcasts the show on public television and the Welk Music Group, which operates record labels Sugar Hill, Vanguard and Ranwood. From the late 1950s to the mid-1980s, the Welk Group was known as "Teleklew" in which tele stood for television and klew was Welk spelled backwards.
The "Live Lawrence Welk Show" makes annual concert tours across the United States and Canada featuring stars from the television series, such as Ralna English, Mary Lou Metzger, Jack Imel, Gail Farrell, Anacani and Big Tiny Little.
Welk's variety show has been parodied three times on Saturday Night Live. Each time, he has been portrayed by Fred Armisen.